Do you have to be in a big (or small) house of worship? Do you have to be on your knees? Or swaying with your hands in the air? Do you have to be looking at a book in your hands, reciting words someone else wrote long ago? Do you have to be asking for help? Do you have to be religious?
Prayer is your intentional, conscious participation in the ongoing conversation with God that your soul has been having in your mind’s absence. (That’s me. I said that.)
And that’s a super nice executive summary. But what the hell does it mean?
(Oh, I so intended that pun.)
Well, It assumes, first, that even if you don’t realize it, aren’t trying, don’t approve, or don’t want it, there is some hard-to-describe part of you that is already in a fabulous, healthy, and high-functioning relationship with God, and are therefore also in conversation with the same. And this is true, absent of religion.
Yup. I said it. I went there.
And so, if we can assume that some deep part of you is already in this awesome-sauce relationship with God (and I know many don’t actually assume this, but Jesus did, I do, and I really think we’re right on this one), then prayer is when you start consciously participating, and begin to move that amazing, brilliant, and wonderful relationship you’ve always had with God up several levels of consciousness from that deep, inner layer that is almost or entirely hidden from you, up, up, up until you totally and fully remember everything about God, Love, and What Is Real.
Name-Dropping & Religiosity
Now, okay. I just name-dropped Jesus. Does this mean prayer is a religious thing? Does it mean it’s a Christian thing?
Nope. The word ‘prayer’ is one used by almost every religion, and rituals involving prayer-like-things are found in every religion, and beyond into non-religious moral systems (like Confucianism!). But prayer can also be used apart from religion and ritual. Religion is made by humans to help humans access God, and awareness of God. God is available to all, regardless of what humans think about that, and whether or not humans want the help of other humans.
So why in the world did I go and name-drop Jesus?
Weeeeeell, I’m a big fan. I think he was largely misunderstood and misrepresented by most of
the idiots who followed him his students who were the ones who wrote stuff down later, but if you read between the lines, what you can see of Jesus is an Enlightened Master who was loving, kind, riotously funny, took very little seriously, and was as clear as he could be without risking being immediately stoned to death for blasphemy, which was actually an honest concern in the time and place in which he lived.
But really, I name-dropped Jesus because none of these ideas I talk about are original to me. Sure, I might phrase them in a meme-worthy fashion, but you shouldn’t imagine that I’m pulling this stuff out of the ether. (Or my butt.) I read extensively. I pray obsessively. I talk with God as often as I can remember to do so. And really, there is nothing I write that is truly original, in that way; I collect and reassemble wisdom, making it more understandable in the process, adding what insight I can offer. (But isn’t this what all priests are meant to do?) The thing I largely refuse to do is citation. (Amusing footnotes and asides are fun. Citations make me sad. Still, I do it occasionally.)
Also, name-dropping Jesus covers my butt as the religious folk who come across this blog give me the side-eye.
Does Prayer Have to Be Religious?
So. Prayer is your intentional, conscious participation in a conversation with God, etc, etc. Intentional and Conscious. Please note I didn’t say ‘religious’.
Prayer in the midst of religion is like taking the train (or an airplane) – across town, or across the country. It’ll get you where you want to go, most of the time. You can sit back and let someone else drive. You can fail to pay close attention and still arrive on time… And once you go as far as you can with the train, you’ll still have a little ways to go on foot.
Prayer without religion is like… not quite taking a car, but perhaps biking instead. You can bike across town. You can bike across the country. And it’s going to involve a bit more work on your part. You’ve got to pay attention, do your homework, figure out your own route, and if you don’t have proper safety gear, that’s just a hospital bill waiting to happen. It’s not for everyone, but the ones who do it largely love it and have all kinds of totally valid reasons for why they deeply prefer it.
A key point in this set of metaphors is that regardless of how you get to your destination – plane, train, car, bike – there is a portion you still have to do on your own. At some point you either have to walk into the building with your own two feet, or roll yourself in with your bloody strong arms.
And so if you’ve spent most of your life in a religious setting, being carried up and away and closer to your destination on the strong winds of corporate prayer and worship, there comes a time when you still have to get your bags out of the overhead compartment and do a bit of your own navigation to get to where you finally need to be.
In the end, no matter how we got to where we are, we’ll still need to bring our awesome-sauce relationship with God up, up, up out of our deep unconscious and into our conscious mind so that we can enjoy the hell out of it. (I intended that pun, too.) And if we really do enjoy the hell out of it, we may find ourselves skipping rather than walking, popping wheelies rather than rolling sedately, to our final destination.
Intentional & Conscious
Now we get to the meat and potatoes. Or if you will, the tofu and nutritional yeast.
Nothing you do is prayer.
Everything you do is prayer.
Both of these statements are true, and the deciding factor between them is where and how you bring the focus of your mind. Your mind is the most powerful tool you have, friends.
Running. Making music. Worrying about family & friends. Exercise. Playing games. Martial arts training. Doing work tasks. Sitting in meetings. Washing dishes. Raising your children. Doing laundry. Running errands. Dealing with your commute. Waiting in line at a store. Listening to music. Reading a book. Reading the news. Reading stuff online. Talking with your loved ones. Arguing with your spouse. Enjoying nature. Outdoor games and sports. Walking. Crafting. Making dinner. Eating anything. Watching a movie. Waking up in the morning. Winding down from your day. Sitting quietly, intentionally doing nothing.
None of these things are prayer. All of these things can be prayer, if you decide you want them to be prayer and make an effort.
And of course, going to a house of worship and participating – you can be going through the motions, and it’s really not prayer for you. And you can be mentally present and thoughtfully or emotionally engaged (or both) and it is prayer for you.
Sitting in your home, reading ancient wisdom. (Might be a bible, might be something else.) Sitting in your home, or kneeling, or bowing, saying the prayers that a religious institution has taught you to memorize, be it an exact recitation (Like the Our Father/Lord’s Prayer, or the Sh’ma), or a form of prayer that you add your own concerns to… you can be going through the motions here, too! And if you are, it’s not really prayer for you, in that moment. And you can be mentally present and thoughtfully and/or emotionally engaged and it is prayer for you.
So, nothing you do is prayer, if you just go through the motions. Everything is prayer, if you bring a certain level of present-mindedness and intention to whatever it is you are doing or thinking. And describing the way a person might bring that certain level of present-mindedness to all sorts of activities, including corporate prayer and traditional forms of private prayer, is going to be the subject of the rest of this blog series. :)
This is the first blogpost in a series on prayer. We’re about to go a lot deeper and broader than this introduction, and yes, there will be a flowchart of awesomeness, created by yours truly.
(My patrons have already seen this flowchart of awesomeness, and if you want an advance peek of this and all my creative endeavors, plus all kinds of behind-the-scenes stuff, special opportunities to participate in my creative process, and occasionally swag, you can go check out my patreon page, patreon.com/sareliz.)
And I am ridiculously excited about the flowchart, mostly because this is the first one I’ve ever made and it was a stupid amount of fun. I’m also ridiculously excited about the flowchart because prayer is both really simple and obvious, and also really complex and multi-faceted (yes, it’s a paradox, roll with it) and so while I totally could give a 33-word answer to the ‘what is prayer and how do I do it?’ question I’ve been asked by no fewer than six people in the last three months, it’s an answer few would find satisfying.
“Prayer is your conscious participation in the ongoing conversation with God. Nothing is inherently prayer, but everything can be prayer. And if you think you hear God, remember to discern. Wars result otherwise.” – Mother Sare Anuszkiewicz
And the satisfying answer would be much longer. Like, as long as a blog series. Or a book series. We’ll see.
[This is where the direct link to the next in the blog series will be, when there is a next post.]